16” x 13” (approx)
This nebula is nestled in the star cluster known (in the West) as the Pleiades. This group of stars holds a place in the mythology and temporal structures of cultures the world over, each ascribing their own names and meaning to the same celestial object. The Pleiades’ seasonal position in the sky signaled, to the ancient Greeks, the beginning and end of the sailing and agricultural seasons. The dawn rising of the Matariki in late May-early June is the start of the Maori New Year.
Many legends (Greek, Native American) tell of 6 or 7 maidens or boys fleeing to the heavens to avoid pursuit or grief, corresponding to the 6 or 7 brightest starts most visible to the naked eye (there are over 400 in the cluster.) Other mythologies (Hindu, Turkish) link these stars to gods themselves or the ancestral origin of women (Aboriginal).
Whatever the name or the legend, the cluster is approximately 440 light years from Earth. The luminous clouds in which these orbs dance is not an aftereffect of these stars’ creation, but a haze of gas and dust within interstellar space into which the cluster has drifted. The gauzy, linear nature of these clouds is a result of the pull of the magnetic fields between the stars causing the dust particles to align.
Seeing with human eyes, the Pleiades are wreathed in a blue mist: the gas and dust reflect the blue-hot light of the stars themselves. The brilliant colors seen here are visible only when captured with infrared photography, in this case by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
The source image was captured/created by NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Stauffer (SSC/Caltech).
Merope Detail 1